Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Text Transgression In Pursuit Of Virtual Materialization

21st Century Practitioner of Text-Transgression
In Pursuit of Virtual Materialization.

“Modernists came to knowing language better ultimately through deconstruction. I’m more interested in knowing language better the way Warhol was knowing image better, by simply turning the camera on it and letting it run”

( K. Goldsmith: Simon Morris “07 Film: Sucking on Words)

Kenneth Goldsmith, conceptual artist, writer, poet and originator of Ubuweb (an online avant-garde treasure trove of video and audio going back to original films of Man Ray, to Francis Bacon, to ethno-poetics and much more), is true to his words… he lets language run to know it better. Only where Warhol used a camera, Goldsmith uses a word processor. While his literary works, like Warhol’s film works are not exactly masterpieces of plot or drama, they are telling nevertheless. And if it is true, as Goldsmith himself proclaims , that he is the most boring artist whom has ever lived, and that he finds a project interesting only if it appears to be nothing more than copying and scribing, his work says plenty about language and its‘ underpinnings. To know what Goldsmith’s work looks/reads like, one need only imagine a daily issue of the New York Times in entirety, stripped of all fonts and headers, transcribed word for word, left to right, top to bottom with absolutely no regard for columns, lines or content separations; and then pasted into a 836 page book called “Day“ with every number, letter and grammatical indicator printed intact, exactly as spatially located on the newsprint. It may not be scintillating, but it sure is interesting.

Goldsmith wrote Day(2003) from the September 1st 2000 edition of the NY Times, and it may be, as Goldsmith himself believes, the greatest story every told ; an epic masterpiece full of mayhem, mystery, murder, mirth and romance… not to mention science, economics, and every imaginable form of everyday reality. To any critics whom might say about Goldsmith’s work what Capote once said about Kerouac’s: “That’s not writing, it’s typing!”; Goldsmith retorts: “yes, in fact it is writing, because… well, …it’s not baseball!’

Quotidian language is what Goldsmith finds so fascinating in Day, that and the poetic rhythm and cadence of it that when qualified, can be seen as a rather surprising object. This objectification of language by one exercise or another is easily recognizable in all of Goldsmiths works, such as his books previous to Day : Fidget and Soliloquy. Fidget (2000), a transcript of the poet's every physical gesture taken over a 13 hour period, suggests to Stephen Cain of Wilfred Laurier University, that: ‘Goldsmith is engaging with an James Joyce-like attention to day to day minutiae when he records his activities such as masturbating, having breakfast, and walking along the beach. He also deploys Joyce’s use of poetic defamiliarization, by rendering common activities near unrecognizable via Spartan text... for example, drinking coffee becomes: "Arm lifts. Swallow. Arm drops. Swallow. Arm lifts. Arm drops. Eyes move to left." ( Caine [19]). Then Soliloquy (2001), in which Goldsmith records his every utterance over an entire week, captures all nuances of idiosyncratic speech, effectively transforming spoken language into physical material, thus as Caine believes, expanding on Warhol's A: A Novel (1968) - in which Warhol recorded and transcribed a friend's monologue for 24 hours. Soliloquy, designed to investigate how much a person speaks in an average week (500 pages, or about 5 pounds), is for Caine audacious, original and completely consistent as are all Goldsmith’s works.

Further proof of Goldsmiths undeniable consistency may be found in Traffic (2007), which is a word for word transcription of a 24hr segment of the traffic report on a NYC radio station. Goldsmith credits his inspiration for Traffic to Warhol’s Death and Disaster Series of paintings created by Warhol, after he heard a radio reporter state on the day before a major holiday, that ‘millions of people were going to die that week end. Ultimately however, proof of Goldsmith’s originality and audaciousness is less clear and subject to scrutiny. To see it as Goldsmith himself does, as “…uncreative writing (wherein)…the writing is the idea and the idea is the writing” creates a paradox. But Robert Fitterman, poet and professor at NYU seen in Simon Morris’s 2007 film on Goldsmith: ‘Sucking On Words”, says that ’an experimental writing community’ from ’radical to moderate’ would not accept Goldsmith’s work as writing at all‘. He says that the same thing was true of Joyce’s : Ulysses, Kerouac’s: On The Road and Whitman, all of whose works were dismissed as drivel. In Fitterman’s view these opinions are meaningless and old fashioned at a time when so much has been written about ‘blurring the boundaries‘. He explains that ‘writings last hoorah to make a modernist attempt to ‘make it new and interesting‘, became boring after 1990, but that Goldsmith’s exercise of post-millennial options such as the use of a computer, (the central invention of our day which also happens to be language based), and the practice of taking large chunks of language and making them his own , are valid and relevant because the “if it is on my computer, then it is mine’ mode of operation is the rule of the day. (Fitterman in Morris Film: Sucking on Words 2007).

Kenneth Goldsmith was born in 1961, to garment industry parents on Long Island and he attended RISD where he majored in sculpture before moving to NYC to engage in a successful career making and selling art objects that made use of language and took several months to construct. When the language became more interesting than the construction, he stopped making the art objects, or sculptures, and began engaging in the language as object, by its own accord. He started to collect and compile examples of “Concrete Poetry“, a visually emphasized form of poetry/typography that began in the early 20th Century with Dada and had an active re-emergence with the hippies of the 60‘s. This interest led to Goldsmith’s first book of ‘almost’ concrete poetry titled: 73 Poems(1993), which consisted a series of 79 textual overlays in which groupings of words are printed in bold text, then lighter and lighter text; and then appear to expand and contract before blossoming again to fully recognizable words and phrases that incorporate both "high" and "low" culture such as quotations from T.S. Eliot, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, etc. The quotes are apt reflections of Goldsmith's attraction to the quotidian and they rhythmically end in rhyme while creating a lively interplay of content and humor (…ex: "Gain Weight/ Jailbait/ Soul Mate/ Hesitate/ Penetrate/ Watergate". Goldsmith has published 9 books of poetry o date, as well as founding and continuing to be the editor of Ubuweb which he has dubbed: “The Ephemerid Of The Avant-Garde“. He lives in NYC with his partner: artist Cheryl Donegan and their children. He also teaches Poetics and Poetic Practice at the University of Pennsylvania and is Senior Editor of PENN sound, a radio and audio journal.

Pollock in 1951 said: “every age must find its’ way”. Goldsmith, whom quotes Brian Gyson’s 1959 statement: “writing is 50 years behind painting’, takes finding a way to bring writing up to date, very seriously. He sees the leading poets of the day as the ‘equivalent of 19th century figurative painters, …whom have no idea that modernism ever happened. He intends his work to be a “direct hit on poetry”, and aims at the materiality and conceptual nature of the word via defamiliarization of normative language structure, through pure run-on tactics. He intends that language be placed into a new container, one that is whole, but that still appreciates the cracks and disjunctiveness of the pieces from which it is formed. By this method, the cadence and rhythm of repetitive language becomes objectified to the status of a material thing which as such makes the invisible being of language, a tangible item to behold. Goldsmith says that ’torn, ripped language was at the center of 20th Century language writing, and had so thoroughly atomized and pulverized the word, that there was no more work to do. “Why take a grain of sand and chop it up even further? …why not forget about deconstruction and think about reconstruction of language? Put it in a new container. Acknowledge and rebuild the vessel, …look at wholeness and articulation, …at semantic intactness. Defamiliarize (the) sense of intact language, reframe it, and put it somewhere else (so that it becomes) … a different means of getting at disjunction through wholeness. We don’t need a new sentence, the old sentence reframed is good enough. (Proceed with) … the expertise of a secretary crossed with the attitude of a pirate”. (Goldsmith in Morris’s Film Sucking On Words).

Perhaps it is Goldsmith’s academic work that speaks the most loudly about his artistic practice. Wikipedia purports that his syllabus at the University of Pennsylvania, includes Uncreative Writing, Interventionist Writing, and Writing Through Art and Culture. It notes his class tools as appropriation, theft, stealing, plundering and sampling; as well as cheating, fraud and identity theft. Assuming this information to be accurate, it goes along with another quote from Wikipedia that “Goldsmith's practice embraces the performance of the writer as process and plagiarism as content”. Who could argue with that? But what remains most compelling about Goldsmith and his works, his art, his writing and his process is they are seamlessly connected, one and the same thing. He IS his own system as he systematically procures material from all walks of sensible life via sound and language that are made matter, and given equal weight with things, so as to metra-morph into enigmatic visual art that leads a double life in the world of ideas and virtual reality. He is simultaneously post-modern and neo-modern. Goldsmith is a 21st Century Bard-Artist border-linking with the virtual concrete... transgressing common language ground via text performance.


  1. Hey,

    Thanks for the comment, I don't think I've came across Goldsmith before. I printed off 'fidget' he seems a really interesting writer/artist, although he might not think that!



  2. Hey AnomoStuart,
    Yes he has taken the canon of modernism into a postmodern strategy while still retaining a conceptual integrity that despite its outrageousness has a virtuous goal to actually reconnect words and actions, as opposed to annhilate them. I too have Fidget,,, it does get tedious, but its intention is illuminating. Get back to me w/ yourthoughts. your the first person at all that has shown any interest in this.
    Ok then!